Lerma, Francisco Gómez De Sandoval y Rojas, 1st Duke of

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LERMA, FRANCISCO GÓMEZ DE SANDOVAL Y ROJAS, 1ST DUKE OF (1552/15531625), favorite of Philip III of Spain and a member of a Valencian family with a long tradition as courtiers. Lerma, about whom few historians ever have said anything kind, was the first of the seventeenth-century validos, or Spanish favorites, whose greatest exemplar was the Count-Duke of Olivares (15871645).

Philip III (ruled 15981621) was an unworthy successor to his grandfather, Charles V (ruled as Holy Roman emperor 15191556; as Charles I, king of Spain, 15161556), and father, Philip II (ruled 15561598). Lerma dominated the young monarch immediately upon his accession and for the next twenty years. Until his fall in 1618, Lerma amassed enormous wealth, elevated friends and relatives whose incompetence was matched only by their greed, oversaw economic ruin, including the sale of offices and debasement of currency, encouraged a lavish court that was a stark contrast to the austerity practiced in the sixteenth century, and engineered the costly and useless transfer of the capital to Valladolid. But he also advocated a series of peace treaties that enabled Spain (and its enemies) to spend around fifteen years in relative peace and recover from decades of warfare.

Scholars traditionally have said that Philip III, under the sway of Lerma, essentially abdicated. Lerma's contemporaries, angry that he kept the king in virtual isolation and beyond their reach, certainly thought so, but recent scholarship disagrees. Evidence is scanty, but what is clear is that Philip III's reign was the occasion for important political developments. The crisis of authority during the early seventeenth century provided theorists with ammunition for new ideas about the relationship between monarch and advisor; the economic crisis propelled the representative Cortes (parliament) and the cities into a more active political role; and even the opulent tastes of the aristocracy and the court spurred artistic production. Lerma can be blamed for these developments; he can also be credited for them. Moreover, peace allowed the government to undertake serious naval rebuilding.

Lerma owned one of the largest art collections of the period and was a patron of dramatists and architects. Peter Paul Rubens (15771640) painted his portrait in 1603, seating him like a king on horseback amid glorious, light-infused battle scenes. Juan Pantoja de la Cruz painted portraits of Lerma and Philip III in 1602 and 1606 that are practically identical; the implications were surely not lost on contemporaries.

By 1612, Lerma was the sole intermediary between the king and all government institutions, so much so that the king ordered the Council of State to obey the duke in all matters. His signature had the same weight as that of the king. He had skillfully institutionalized and legitimized this position of unprecedented power, which he capped in 1618, on the eve of his fall, by being appointed a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, apparently the culmination of years of indecision about joining a religious order and withdrawing from the world.

Lerma was probably the richest man in Spain, as well as the most powerful. His enemies were legion, not surprisingly, and they included most of the aristocracy and the female members of the king's family: his wife, Margaret of Austria; his grandmother, Empress Maria of Austria; and his aunt, Margaret of the Cross, a nun. Indeed, it was partly to escape their influence that Lerma moved the king to Valladolid.

Lerma's power began to wane with the Twelve Years' Truce in 1609, seen by some as capitulation to the Dutch rebels. His enemies alleged that others of his noninterventionist decisions, such as avoiding the 1612 Savoy crisis, also were defeatist. One of his closest allies, Rodrigo Calderón, was forced to leave the country in 1611, an important step along the way to dislodging Lerma. As the Twelve Years' Truce neared its end and conflict in Bohemia appeared inevitable, his chief rivals, among them Cristóbal de Sandoval y Rojas, duke of Uceda (and Lerma's own son), and Baltasar de Zúñiga, a former ambassador who was already aiming to advise the future Philip IV, rose in prominence. In September 1618, Lerma asked permission to retire, which the king granted.

As courtiers and rivals fought to divide his wealth and influence and the new regime punished his allies (Calderón was eventually executed), Lerma spent his last years in the seat of his estates, the beautiful town of Lerma, just south of Burgos. The walled town, rebuilt on the orders of the duke in 1606, is among the most outstanding examples of seventeenth-century urban design, both a ducal court and a conventional town. He died 17 May 1625 in Valladolid.

See also Dutch Revolt (15681648) ; Olivares, Gaspar de Guzmán y Pimentel, count of ; Philip III (Spain) ; Spain .


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Williams, Patrick. "Lerma, 1618: Dismissal or Retirement?" European History Quarterly 19 (1989): 307332.

Ruth MacKay

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Lerma, Francisco Gómez De Sandoval y Rojas, 1st Duke of

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